With the Pittsburgh Steelers having completed the first portion of their season, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this year and give out some midseason player evaluations.
The team has had a rocky but ultimately successful season to date, coming out of the first six games with a winning record despite being 1-2-1 just two weeks ago. Coming off of consecutive strong victories with improve play from both sides of the ball, things are looking up.
The offense has done its part for the most part, but has taken some long vacations. Their disappearing acts in the second half was perplexing, but that has improved. Defensively, the secondary is seemingly becoming a bit more stable after being nothing short of terrible previously, but there are absolutely some real concerns remaining.
Player: Alejandro Villanueva
A common theme in the career of left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is that he has gotten off to slow starts to begin the season. The fortunate news is that this has been his slowest start yet. While he had a couple of bumps along the way against Myles Garrett and others in the season opener, his performance in that game was not nearly so dreadful as initially appeared.
And he has merely gotten better and better since that game, as he has done in each of the past four seasons, during which in particular his work in pass protection has become quite formidable, as early in the year as it ever has. According to Pro Football Focus, for example, he is giving up pressures in pass protection as rarely as just about anybody else in the league at tackle.
Villanueva, who turned 30 a little over a month ago, is in the second year of a four-year contract, and one that is proving so far to be a bargain for a left tackle of his caliber, even taking into consideration the reality that this is only now his fourth year in the league, under normal circumstances involving a restricted free agent tender.
While he hasn’t been the champion lately of anybody’s causes that has been looking to co-opt him—which last year boosted his jersey sales into the top 50 of all players in the league, the only offensive lineman in that category—he has gone about his work quietly and dutifully.
He now more than ever appears to feel truly at home and comfortable on all fronts. He has all the experience he could possibly need at this point, he has long-term financial security, and he doesn’t have any foolish extracurricular controversies swirling around him. The only concern he has right now is winning football games, and I think it shows.